Thursday, September 11, 2008

Welfare State Disconnect

A recent TV news report here in New Orleans featured a story of thousands of people waiting in line for hours on end to get food stamps. They had to evacuate for Hurricane Gustav (which is terribly expensive, to be sure!). The state had set up a couple of temporary distribution centers for people to apply for benefits because so many were asking for them.

The news station interviewed three people who were terribly angry at the clumsiness of the bureaucracy and the time they had to spend in line. Two of these folks who were utterly indignant had Blue Tooths stuck in their ears.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying, but if you can afford a Blue Tooth, you should not get food stamps - especially if you're standing in line for welfare, and most especially if you're being interviewed on TV. Isn't Blue Tooth kind of expensive? You have to buy the hardware, but also pay a monthly subscription - isn't that correct?

I'm reminded of the oft-reported situation after Hurricane Katrina in which an elderly lady was being put up at government expense in a furnished apartment - along with a 60 inch flat screen TV with brand new hardwood floors - and she was complaining that it was a "dump."

We in South Louisiana have been terribly embarrassed of late by the complaints and ingratitude of hurricane refugees who had to spend time in shelters - which I'm sure are no picnic. But an emergency shelter is not a 4-star resort. It means you get a roof, a cot, a portable toilet, and food and water. You get to survive. Frankly, a lot of military personnel live this way for months or years on end. Hurricane refugees may spend a week or two in such conditions (complaining of lack of soda drinks, showers, and TV). Living in a primitive situation like this for a few days is better than drowning in a flood, isn't it? And then you get to go home.

Besides, if you forgo a few luxuries that you really can't afford (like Blue Tooth, cable, cell phones, booze, smokes, tattoos, body piercings, expensive jewelry, etc.), you can sock away a few hundred bucks so that when the next hurricane comes, you can stay in a hotel instead of a shelter, and you can fall back on your savings and be self-sufficient instead of making the taxpayers treat you like a child and give you a handout.

Like almost everyone in South Louisiana, I accepted Red Cross and FEMA money after Hurricane Katrina - and I was grateful for it. Evacuation is expensive. We were all caught unawares that time - especially given the severity of the devastation. Our entire region was crippled after the storm. Our families had to spend weeks, in some cases, months away from home. We also benefited greatly from selfless volunteers sent by churches and charitable agencies who helped us rebuild our homes and our lives. And most of us learned valuable lessons as a result. We learned to put money away and to have a plan. If you live in New Orleans, you simply must have a few hundred bucks in cash stowed away at home before you spend a dime on luxuries.

The U.S. certainly owes our region decent levees (they were built to substandard levels which were covered up by the Army Corps of Engineers, and the federal government needs to take responsibility and fix their shoddy work - and besides, the state and local governments aren't allowed to fix the levees even if we wanted to - by law, all work on the levees must go through the Corps and be funded by the federal government). But the taxpayers (at any level of government) should not be expected to pay our citizens who irresponsibly spent their money over the last three years on electronic goodies, gas guzzling cars, and entertainment instead of saving for a "rainy day."

Of course, it goes without saying that a lot of people are genuinely poor and in need. This is not to disparage them. But those who have the means, but squander them, do not exactly make other people too eager to help anyone - including those who are in genuine need.

The Welfare State discourages people from taking responsibility and setting priorities. The Welfare State encourages able-bodied grown men and women to act as eternal adolescents or even to see themselves as helpless little children.

People need to relearn the concepts of thrift, self-denial, and delayed gratification - as well as the classic Boy Scout motto: "Always be prepared."


martha said...

Hi I happened on your blog by googling Higher Things, but i appreciate your comments. I live in Louisville, KY, and our church received several families who moved here to go to Baptist seminary. . .most have gone back to your neck of the woods. . .

Pastor said...

Great post - couldn't agree more.

FYI - bluetooth is merely a wireless protocol for secure communication between two devices (these days it's often a cell phone and a headset). Beyond purchasing the two devices with bluetooth capabilities, there is no subscription cost for their use (you still have to pay for your cellular plan). You just charge them and use them. It's kind of like a, b, g, or now n protocols for wireless internet on laptops and such. Each has it's advantages and disadvantages. Bluetooth is short range (about 10 yards, though less if there's a wall in between the devices), which means it's less likely to be 'hacked', but it's fast enough for use with a cellphone so that you and the other user do not have any lag in conversation (beyond normal cellphone lag).

Still...the headsets are at least $15.00 for the very cheapest ones, but they're becoming fashion accessories, so they can go for over $100.00. Some states and/or cities require handsfree devices for using a cellphone if you're driving. I do this, and it's less distracting than holding a phone and steering. It's like talking to a passenger while you're driving.

Anyway, enough on that. It's handy stuff, but if you're spending money on bluetooth headsets and corresponding plans and cellphones (and if fancy cellphones aren't status symbols...) when you don't have enough money for food, there's something wrong with your priorities.